Blitzer, Burnett and the undecideds!


Deeply, horrendously awful: On Wednesday night, Erin Burnett watched the presidential debate with a group of undecided voters.

How horrible is our political culture? At one point, Burnett described the moments in the debate these voters objected to most. Host Wolf Blitzer said these were “the low points in the debate for President Obama and Governor Romney.”

Standing among her undecideds, Burnett began with a statement by Obama. His statement was perfectly accurate:
BURNETT (10/3/12): Now let's get to some of the lows, Wolf. And there were a couple of moments that our focus group at least reacted very negatively to.

BLITZER: And let's take a look at some of those lows, Erin. The low points in the debate for President Obama and Governor Romney.

Let's begin with the president first. It came at 9:18 PM Eastern, when he was talking about taxes but seemed to take a dig at Governor Romney. Men and women both rejected the president's argument. Watch.


OBAMA: For 18 months, he's been running on this tax plan, and now five weeks before the election he is saying that his big, bold idea is, "Never mind." And the fact is that if you are lowering the rates the way you describe, Governor, then it is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals to avoid either raising the deficit or burdening the middle class.


BLITZER: All right. That was the president's lowest moment, according to our focus group our in Colorado.
Hopeless. Obama’s didn’t do a sensational job explaining that complicated point. He even said a few things which were wrong or misleading.

But in the bulk of that statement, Obama was accurately stating the problem with Romney’s absurd tax proposal:

Romney says he will lower tax rates by twenty percent. At the same time, he says he’ll close so many tax loopholes that his plan will be revenue neutral.

But according to the Tax Policy Center, this proposal is mathematically impossible. There simply aren’t enough tax loopholes or tax deductions to balance off the revenue that would be lost in those rate cuts for high-income earners. To keep the proposal revenue neutral, middle-income earners would have to pay more in taxes.

The Tax Policy Center explained this matter in early August. As we noted at the time, the Washington Post and the New York Times devoted very little coverage to this seminal point.

Two weeks ago, we did a workshop for some federal managers. We were surprised to see that very few of these bright, successful federal employees were familiar with Romney’s proposal.

In all likelihood, Burnett’s undecideds had little idea what Obama was talking about. And sure enough! Neither Blitzer nor Burnett made any attempt to tell them!

Burnett’s undecideds got upset when Obama made an accurate statement. It was his lowest moment! As Blitzer continued, he and Burnett explained where Romney rubbed them wrong:
BLITZER (continuing directly): Governor Romney's low point happened about halfway through the debate at 9:43 PM Eastern, when he talked about cuts to entitlements.


ROMNEY: But on Medicare, for current retirees, he's cutting $716 billion from the program. Now he says by not overpaying hospitals and providers. Actually just going to them and saying, we're going to reduce the rates you get paid across the board. Everybody is going to get a lower rate. That's not just going after places where there's abuse, that's saying we're cutting the rates. Some 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes say they won't take any more Medicare patients under that scenario.


BLITZER: All right. Let's go back to Erin. Erin, what did you make of that?

BURNETT: All right. There was some real frustration here. When we were all talking earlier I think you all can agree, we said when they got negative, everybody said, “Oh, gosh, I hated this, I hated that?” Fair description? OK. Fair description!

Let me just ask Chris (INAUDIBLE) here. You were frustrated when we just heard Romney talking about the $716 billion. That got to you.

WOMAN NAMED CHRIS: It got to me because it was like that was the only figure he continually threw out. And it was like, for me, as someone who—I have a small business, and I don't have health insurance anymore because I just turned 26, so luckily I was able to be on my parents' insurance for so long. Yet you're throwing out this figure of this number that's going to affect me at some point, but you're saying it only—you know, because you have a number to give from President Obama as opposed to I really don't have a figure to get from you because you've been working on state level and not federal.

BURNETT: So it's frustration there.
The undecideds got upset when Romney kept making that claim about the $716 billion. It was his lowest moment.

Full disclosure: We semi-agree! For us, that repetitive claim by Romney was the lowest point of the evening by far. But we were disgusted with Obama, who just sat there, head hung low, while Romney kept repeating this statement.

Romney’s dollar figure is accurate, of course, but Obama refused to explain the obvious. To wit:

There is a lot of excess spending within the Medicare program—within our whole medical system. It’s the job of any president to wring that excess spending out of the system.

Paul Ryan’s recent budgets have included these same adjustments in Medicare spending. In theory, these adjustments eliminate over-payments to health care providers without reducing services to Medicare recipients.

We were disgusted when Obama kept hanging his head and refusing to state these basic points. But according to Burnett, these undecideds got “frustrated” because of the “negativity” here.

Translation: If Obama had explained those points, they might have been more upset!

At any rate, Burnett and Blitzer made no attempt to explain the facts behind Romney’s repeated claim. Then, as Burnett continued, we hit the lowest point of this truly horrible segment.

Burnett invited another voter to criticize Obama. Then, she explained what these undecided voters really want:
BURNETT (continuing directly): And I also wanted to come over here quickly to Carroll Ward. You're a teacher. And there you—take a hold of that. You were frustrated when Barack Obama was attacking Mitt Romney there.

WARD: Yes, I was frustrated because the president just really didn't seem to listen to Romney when he was giving his plan, and he just kept sticking on that $5 trillion and the $2 trillion, and not listening is one of the biggest things that is a problem in this debate and in this election.

BURNETT: One final thing I wanted to just make a point here, Wolf, that everyone here felt. How many of you felt—I'll just walk out here, felt that you wished you got even more information from these candidates, that they didn't fully answer the questions? I mean everybody.

And that's something that stood out here. And people were saying afterward they wanted more information from the candidates. So I think that's something that stands out.
Burnett is one of the genuine flyweights of the millionaire press corps. But even for her, these final exchanges are simply gruesome. As she closed, she stressed the idea that these voters wanted more information about these issues. But she and Blitzer made no attempt to provide any info at all!

You can scan CNN’s coverage for yourself to see if the channel ever made any attempt to provide that information. But in this segment with Burnett, we see the horrible underside of the interaction between American voters and flyweight pseudo-journalists:

Many voters are under-informed about the statements the candidates make. Inevitably, this is part of the way the world works.

Voters go to work every day. Inevitably, they will need assistance from journalists to become better informed. In theory, news organizations exist to help these voters understand these issues better.

But our pseudo-journalists make a fetish of keeping these voters barefoot and clueless. Burnett and Blitzer were terribly horrible in this woeful but typical segment.

How does modern "journalism" work? Blitzer and Burnett showed us this night:

Obama made an accurate statement. It was his lowest moment!


  1. This is an excellent column but I don't buy Bob's defense of the $716 billion cut to Medicare. Bob wrote: "There is a lot of excess spending within the Medicare program—within our whole medical system. It’s the job of any president to wring that excess spending out of the system."

    The trouble with this excuse is that it has been the job of every President from LBJ to today to wring excess spending out of Medicare. If there were some obvious efficiency, it would already have been found. In fact, if Mr. Obama knew how to reduce Medicare spending by this amount without affecting benefits, he would have made that reform during his first term.

    IMHO it's absolutely necessary to reduce the cost of Medicare. However, it's wishful thinking to imagine that one can reduce the cost without reducing the benefit.

    1. Shorter Douchebag:

      If there was anything wrong, it'd already be fixed!

      Ergo, you can't make it any better, only worse!

    2. Suppose your boss said to you:

      "Anonymous, I'm cutting your salary by 20%. However, I know you do a lot of excess spending, so your standard of living won't be affected."

      Would you buy that?

    3. You mean you would David?

      Suppose, on the other hand, your boss said he was cutting your pay 20 percent but it will be "revenue neutral."

    4. Douchebag has no answer to the accurate caricature of his views as being "if there was anything wrong, it would already be fixed." A meritless analogy to salary is no kind of response.

      But that's because Douchebag's not interested in "fixing" anything.

      Douchebag's already told us everything we need to know about how he sees the issue:

      "IMHO it's absolutely necessary to reduce the benefit of Medicare."

  2. There were a litany of claims made by Gov. Romney that were demonstratively false. It was incumbent upon the President to challenge and expose those during the debate. Blitzer and Burnett are not the focus. It's the Presidents performance. I don't want a college professor at the podium. I want a man who looks to his opponent as someone who is trying to take the food off his family's table. This is it. This is the time. Where the rubber meets the pavement.
    When Gov. Romney singled out PBS and stated that he would strip funding, why didn't the President point out that it amounts to $450 million dollars a year. That PBS for most Americans is considered "the largest classroom in the world." That all of that funding is equally dispersed to each local affiliate station. Or how that funding equates to our foreign aid or defense dept. budget?
    Trickle-down. How many references did Gov. Romney make? Why didn't the President remind him of the economic meltdown trickle-down brought us to four years ago.
    Why didn't the President derail Gov. Romney when he incessantly kept interrupting Jim Lehrer, by interrupting with, " Mitt, this is a debate. You can't be both a debater AND the moderator." Why didn't he do this?
    No mention of the 47%. WTF?
    Chris Matthews was stunned. We have another debate in less than two weeks. This isn't about Blitzer or Burnett, or any of the ubiquitous rent-a-mouths on TV. This is about the Presidency of the United States of America.
    The President better show up at Hofstra.

    1. "Why, why, why?"

      Because he doesn't care. He doesn't have any values, any interest at stake besides his re-election, which he thought was guaranteed. So he went in and shit everything up, because he simply doesn't care enough to fight, to properly prepare. He'll probably do better in the next debate because he's scared now -- the only thing he cares about, his re-election, is now threatened, so he'll come out and fight, or do whatever he thinks of as fighting. The good news for his worshipers is the bar is now about as low for him as it should have been all along; unless he comes out and literally, instead of figuratively, as he did in this debate, drops his pants and bends over for Romney the story will be about his improvement. That's too bad, because the real story ought to be not just this debate, but the fact that it demonstrates why his presidency has been such a waste of an opportunity, and why no one should expect four more years to be any better. That debate is a reflection of who Obama is, pure and simple.

    2. What debate did you guys watch? In the one I saw, Obama constantly reminded Romney of his own record, and Romney simply denied everything he said before.

      The old "Etch-A-Sketch" thing.

  3. We don't know how the "dialers" were instructed. At some points in the debate it looked like they were responding negatively to an idea the speaker was talking about, not the speaker himself.

  4. >"As she closed, she stressed the idea that these voters wanted more information about these issues. But she and Blitzer made no attempt to provide any info at all!"

    I saw a clip of whatever Sunday show Paul Krugman was on pointing out this same media failure. He was slapped down and told it's not the media's job.

    I'd laugh if it weren't so horrifying.

  5. It's not the moderators job...Candy Crowley tried it and totally botched it!!!